Rants on all the ads that suck. Updated whenever it tickles my fancy to do so. Now moved to http://adsthatsuck.ca

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Advertising takes over

Reading my friend Joe's blog today, a post of his created an interesting discussion. The National Post today had this attached to it. A wrap ad for the Mazda 5 that covered the front page. (Click for a larger version)

Joe didn't like it.

I'll be honest - I don't like this sort of thing either, but it's something we're seeing more and more. Advertising is increasingly embedding itself in the media - integrating the masthead of our national newspaper, placing itself in the middle of a scene of a movie or a television show. This isn't anything new by any stretch of the imagination, but it's become a lot more prevalent.

In the case of television, it's the only way for advertising to survive in a post-Tivo world, where it only takes the press of a button to avoid commercials. Hell, I like commercials and I do it.

The newspaper is starting to go the same way. Ad sales are losing market share to the online audience, and the effectiveness of newspaper advertising gets weaker with every RSS feed that gets published from a major news source.

Newspapers are facing a major crisis right now. They need advertising dollars to survive, but the way people want the news is changing drastically. Thanks to innovations like Google news and RSS, people want to sample a number of different media outlets, to focus on what they're really interested in, and to do it all while they check their email in the morning.

Maybe a sweeping generalization, but more and more people that I know (who aren't journalists) get their news that way. And who can blame them? I hardly ever read the newspaper, unless I'm sitting by myself in a coffee shop, and I have never really cared for the experience.

I'm not arguing that the newspaper has lost its place as a news medium, but I am arguing that more and more, it's going to have to adapt. It's going to have to adapt to attract and retain readers, and it's going to have to adapt to interest advertisers who are only interested in getting impact for their money. As time goes on, I predict that we're going to see a lot more of this kind of thing, and it's only going to get worse.

So what's the problem with this? I think it comes down to confidence. People want to be confident that the news they read is unaffected by who is advertising in the paper. It's not even close to the case, but this makes it all the more real, and that's unsettling. As the line between advertising and journalism gets thinner, that confidence will weaken further - and more people will adopt higher-tech sources for their news.

So, we end up stuck between journalists who are (or should be) fighting to maintain integrity, and the reality that it takes money to publish a newspaper.

I can say with close to absolute confidence that newspaper readers would not be willing to pay what a newspaper actually costs to print, so it looks like we're stuck with intrusive ads. It's not an ideal situation for unbiased journalism, but I'd argue that there's very little of that left anyway.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a far better written and vastly more insightful "blurb" on the topic that the snide comments you posted on Joe's blog. Good work Ryan. When you write like this I actually want to continue a discussion with you over coffee... when you write like you wrote yesterday smoke starts coming out of my ears and I want to call and yell at you. Really. It's not pretty.

7/27/2005 12:38:00 p.m.

Blogger Joe Boughner said...

Okay Ryan, ask and ye shall receive.

I understand the necessity of advertising. However, when a newspaper is willing to cover up its own front page in the name of making a buck, I think it crosses the line. A newspaper's "A1" is hallowed ground in the media world, which is why ads are typically limited to unobtrusive places like the bottom or top corners.

I would be much more inclined to tolerate wraps if there was more obviously a direct benefit to the journalism. However, in recent years cut foreign bureaus, reduced staff in newsrooms and become more reliant on chopped-up wire copy.

Furthermore, CanWest decided to bankroll a free daily magazine that is CLEARLY not sustainable on its own with its profits, rather than invest them back into their flagship newspaper or in-house "CanWest News Service."

If wrap ads meant more pages of copy, or more colour photos, or even more original copy, I would accept that. But CanWest is being run as a corporation first, which means they want to cut costs and increase revenues, with little thought given to the quality of the "news" they present.

7/27/2005 06:47:00 p.m.

Blogger Ryan said...

Welcome to the newspaper business. :)

7/28/2005 08:37:00 a.m.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can say with close to absolute confidence that newspaper readers would not be willing to pay what a newspaper actually costs to print. . .

Agreed, Ryan. That's why readers never pay what a newspaper costs to print. The price of a daily paper, much as it is wont to increase by a quarter or two, is always kept below cost-recovery because otherwise it would be too expensive. During the newspaper wars, this was a big problem - I suggest reading Chris Cobb's Ego and Ink, which has a good chapter on advertising and subscription sales.

Their solution? Slash subscription prices. Give away papers on the street. Negotiate deals to distribute papers exclusively and for free on planes, trains and university campuses. If printing the papers is a money-losing proposition anyway, they reasoned, we may as well make the papers really cheap, woo advertisers with the prospect of increased readership and let them fill the gap.

In Europe, the solution to the readership problem has been very different. Newspapers there are mostly local, and much more expensive. North Americans, being used to cheap news, might not like this. So the Post flounders with alternative solutions to save money - cut print distribution to Newfoundland, put pull-out ads on their cover.

Ah. . . copy is arriving on my desk. I'll continue this rant later.

7/28/2005 10:24:00 a.m.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where was I. . . oh, yes. North American newspapers are too dependent on ads. They're caught in a bind; young readers don't want to pay for news, but they don't want to read news that appears to have been bought and paid for by corporate interests. (Canadians seem to be OK with state-funded news too, but this only affects TV and the radio, not print media.)

Caught between a rock and a hard place, I think this Mazda ad demonstrates that the Post prefers to slam its head against the rock.

7/28/2005 11:04:00 a.m.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fuck. . . that last paragraph was a bad dangling modifier. It should read:

I think this Mazda ad demonstrates that, when caught between a rock and a hard place, the Post prefers to slam its head against the rock.

7/28/2005 11:29:00 a.m.

Blogger The Shotgun Solution said...

It's good to read this debate because we are clearly getting both sides. From a journalist's (Joe's) perspective, the ad is a bad thing because it tramples on journalistic integrity and responsibility. For the advertiser (Ryan) the ad is a good thing because it does its job.

This is exactly what happened at the Post when the ad was being debated (or at least it should have...perhaps I give them too much credit...). The advertising manager would have come to the publisher (or, more likely, the editor-in-chief) and asked if the ad was okay. The E-in-C is pretty much the only person in the newsroom who walks over the ad department on a regular basis. So he went back to the newsroom and asked a senior editor what he/she (who are we kidding...he) thought about the ad. The editor hopefully said it was shit and that it shouldn't run.

The editor-in-chief should have looked out for the best interests of the paper. He should have known that using the front page for advertising would pay the bills (so would selling cocaine out of the office...except they're in fucking Don Mills and nobody would buy...but anyways...) but that it would make the paper less appealing to its readership.

I'd say Joe's argument wins out over Ryan's. You can sell all the ads you want, but if no one is reading the paper because they think it's trashy, they soon won't be worth the paper they're printed on.

7/28/2005 05:22:00 p.m.

Blogger Ryan said...

To be perfectly honest, I seriously doubt it went anything like that. I'd love to think that it did, but we are talking about the paper that brought us Aspertorials here.

I would say that Joe's intention wins out over mine, but I don't know that we're really disagreeing as much as it seems. I'm not saying that this sort of advertising should be happening, but I don't think that this particular ad is a terrible thing in and of itself. I think it points to a nasty trend, and brings it out into the open. Taken alone, you can't really assign a moral judgment to it. The effect this ad is going to have on society is negligible - it's the fact that it's laid bare for everyone to see that I think is what's pressing a nerve.

You are right, though. If a newspaper is all advertising, nobody will read - and as a result, nobody will advertise. This is why I think that newspaper really has to adapt, or you're going to be seeing a lot more of this sort of thing - or worse, advertising concealed as journalism.

7/28/2005 09:52:00 p.m.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I can't sleep so I thought I would join the fray days after most people have moved on.
I am in no sense a journalistic purist. When the opportunity for the Charlatan to run ads for internet gambling came up and Joe polled his staff I jumped on board.
When he asked us about ads on the cover I said no and when asked to help draft an advertising policcy for the paper I helped to have a no ads on cover clause inserted.
Newspaper need ad revenue to continue to do what they do that's clear. I think the ad goes over the limit of the little contract newspapers make with their readers however. A giant cover ad like this says two things to the reader. It says that the newspaper will compromise journalistic standards for coin and it also says that there isn't much worth reading in the post today. A1 is the newspapers advertising space it showcases what the newspaper has to offer that day and in this case apparently the answers was not a whole hell of a lot.

8/02/2005 05:42:00 a.m.


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